Half 'n' Half:  Reinventing the Black Maria

(with Vincent Meyer-Madaus)

Princeton University: Paul Lewis (Integrated Building Studio)

Fall 2015


Our proposal for “Reinterpreting the Black Maria” seeks to redefine the status of the original Black Maria in relation to the addition of a building. Utilizing the existing three photos of the original Black Maria, constructed at the Edison Laboratories in the 1890s, we proposed to exhibit the façade of the original Maria. As the original three photos only show one side, we decided to showcase the original façade as the new façade of our building addition.


As the existing Black Maria currently does not rotate anymore we decided that reestablishing the original function of the film studio was of key importance to our design proposal. This rotation becomes part of the circulation through building occupancy. When the screening room is unoccupied, the Black Maria is in its “resting” position, flush with the façade. As people enter the building, the Maria rotates until the screening in finished; at which point visitors may enter the Black Maria to understand how it operates.


While the Black Maria is unoccupied, the entire structure acts as part of the façade of the building addition; effectively, it is a wall or a door unless it is occupied. As it rests in its façade position, it acts as a wall: two frames with an air cavity in between. As we examined its ability to function as wall or program, we developed the material and thermal systems based on this duality of function.


The addition to the Black Maria employs a vernacular building assembly process of offset 2x4 stud framing. As the Black Maria was not built with insulation, the entire building surrounding the Black Maria acts as a hyper-insulated passive house. Double stud walls and a trombe wall system ensure that the interior screening room is well regulated in temperature. In the summer, the trombe wall acts in a traditional manner, generating air circulation and venting hot air through the roof. During the winter, the trombe wall feeds a radiant heating system, transferring heat from the façade wall to the floor system in the screening room.


When entering the building, the long hallway acts as an incremental door, heightening comfort not by securing air flow and regulating temperature, but exposing the visitors to consistent radiant heating and increasing densities of insulation. The visitor walks along the building’s skin, tactilely navigating through the abounding insulation that gradually narrows the pathway, until finally released into the cavity that is the screening room.